Why study Physics at SDSU?

The SDSU Physics Department is distinguished by its favorable student-to-faculty ratio: upper division physics courses average less than 25 students, and graduate courses about 10 students. The department actively promotes close student-faculty contact; faculty members personally know most upper division and graduate students. Full-time faculty teach most of the undergraduate and graduate lectures and laboratory courses.

In the teaching philosophy of the SDSU Physics Department, great emphasis is placed on hands-on experience for students. A notable strength of the physics program is the active involvement of both undergraduate and graduate students in research. Our senior students become research collaborators in a partnership with the faculty. Senior and MS students participate together in a variety of research activities, including research seminars and group meetings.

A thesis requirement exists for both undergraduate as well as M. S. students. The thesis work often results in a publication in a refereed journal, co-authored by the student.

The research experience familiarizes students with the types of problems found in advanced research and engineering situations, and prepares them to assume positions of responsibility quickly after graduation.

Undergraduate Studies

We offer the following physics-based Undergraduate degrees:
  • Minor in physics,
  • Major in physics with the B.A. degree in liberal arts and sciences,
  • Major in physics with the B.S. degree in applied arts and sciences,
  • Major in chemical physics with the B.S. degree in applied arts and sciences,
  • Teaching major in physical science (preparation for middle and high school science/physics teachers).

Please refer to: SDSU page for undergraduate admission.


Graduate Studies

We offer the following physics-based Graduate degrees:
  • Master of Science degree in Physics,
  • Master of Arts degree in Physics (non-thesis),
  • Master of Science degree in Medical Physics.


  • Minimum GPA of 2.85 for your last 60 semester-hours of credit, or the equivalent thereof.
  • Submit official GRE Scores.
  • The physics subject GRE is not required.
 Application Checklist:

1. University Online Application via Cal State Apply– Must be completed by March 1st.

  • All applicants must fill out an online application on Cal State Apply and pay the required fee
  • A SDSU RED ID Number will then be assigned which allows tracking of application status online.

2. Official test scores and transcripts sent to Graduate Admissions – Must be received by April 1 st .

  • GRE (and if applicable, TOEFL) test scores must be sent directly from ETS. (Institution Code: 4682)
  • Official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended. Send to:
    Enrollment Services
    Graduate Admissions Document Processing Unit
    San Diego State University
    San Diego, CA 92182-7416

3. Program Application – Must be completed by April 1 st .

  • Complete the program application at Interfolio
  • The Physics Program application requires the following items:
  1. Copies of transcripts from all colleges and universities attended (these do not need to be sent directly from the colleges – photocopies are acceptable)
  2. Personal Statement no more than two pages in length.
  3. Three letters of recommendation – Applicant must provide names and email addresses for recommenders. Recommenders will beinvited to complete the recommendation electronically.
SDSU also offers other graduate degrees with coursework and research specialization in physics:

Please note:  Each of the following degrees have their own admission & degree requirements.  Click on the links below view more info on these specialized programs.


FAQs For Graduate Students

I really want to come to SDSU, but my GPA is lower than 2.85. Can I still be admitted? 

Yes, it is possible, if you have some other factors to balance your low GPA, such as outstanding GRE scores or outstanding letters of recommendation. Please keep in mind that University rules allow us to admit no more than 10% of our incoming students to have less than a 2.85 GPA, so even if we want you, the University may not admit you.


Do you offer any stipends and/or research fellowships?

Yes, the physics department here at SDSU has limited Teaching Associate positions available for selected graduate students. For More Information.  Research fellowships are on a case by case basis and solely depend on your research advisor.


What are the requirements for a student from outside the U.S.?

The requirements are the same as for U.S. students. If your undergraduate institution uses a different grading system from the U.S., the Graduate Division will convert your transcript to the U.S. system. In this case your undergraduate institution must have either a web page or an official document that states the equivalence between your grades and U.S.


Do I have to take the TOEFL?

If you have a degree from a University in the U.S., or a University whose primary language of instruction is English, you do not need to take the TOEFL.


I missed the deadline but really really want to start this semester anyway. Can you make an exception for me?

Sorry, March 1st is the latest deadline to apply.


I was accepted but could not start in September. Can I show up a semester late?

Sorry, the University requires you to reapply (see above for how to apply), including sending another application fee. You do not need to resubmit your transcripts, GRE scores, personal statement, or letters of recommendation, as long as they are still up-to-date. If you have been accepted once, there is no real reason why you wouldn’t be accepted again.


I don’t have an undergraduate degree in physics. Can I still be accepted into your program?

Our graduate courses assume you have the background of a student with a bachelor’s degree in physics. Without such a background, you will fail the required courses and everyone will be unhappy. Students with a closely related background, such as physical chemistry or astronomy, can be accepted but will need to take some upper-division undergraduate physics courses to make sure you have the requisite background. Students who have only taken lower-division physics will have to take the entire suite of upper division courses; you also will need to take the necessary math courses. In short, nothing is impossible, but if you don’t have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in physics it may take a long time.


I took some graduate courses at another university. Can I transfer the units? How do I do this?

You can, at least in principle, transfer up to 9 semester-hours of credit, but no more. This is at the discretion of the graduate advisor. This will be credited at the time of submitting the Plan of Study.


Can I take courses in other departments?

Courses numbered 500, 600, or 700 can, with the approval of the graduate advisor, be used towards electives. Generally courses in closely related departments such as math, chemistry, or astronomy, are readily acceptable. Please check with the graduate advisor before taking such a course.


Can I substitute some other courses for one of the core courses?

If you have taken a very similar graduate course at another university (within the 7 year limit) for at least 3 semester-hours of credit, and if you have the approval of the graduate advisor, it can be used as a transfer credit (up to 9 semester-hours total). Otherwise, no.


I think I signed up for too many classes this semester. How do I drop a class after the deadline?

You can’t. The absolute deadline for dropping classes is three weeks into the semester. Beyond that date it is nearly impossible to drop or withdraw from a class, or change it to an audit, or change to Credit/No Credit. Sorry, these are the University rules. As far as we know, the only way to be allowed to withdraw retroactively is due to either a medical condition, for which you will need documentation from your physician, or an unanticipated change in your work situation, for which you will also need documentation from your employer. Maybe a death in your immediate family as well. The Department has very little power in these situations; you must go to the Graduate Division for a petition, and keep in mind most such petitions get turned down.


How long should it take to do a thesis?

In principle, you can do it in two semesters. In practice, however, we find it often takes three semesters: one semester to learn the ropes of your lab, one semester to do your actual experiments, and one full semester to write your thesis. This assumes you are spending at least 20 hours per week on your research; if you aren’t, it will take even longer. Keep in mind that writing up your thesis also always takes longer than you expect.


My thesis research isn’t going anywhere. Do I have other options?

You can switch from an MS to an MA (also known as ‘Plan B’). The MA requires the same amount of coursework, as well as a long (12 hours) and fiendishly difficult series of exams in the course subjects: Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Electromagnetism, and Quantum Mechanics. See the Graduate Advisor for details.